How I Started Gaming, Part 1

One of my earliest memories is of sitting beside my father while he played Shining Force II on our Sega Genesis in the early 90s.  My family lived in a second-floor apartment with a large living room that overlooked the busy street below.  I would watch in awe as my father progressed through the RPG, surely not fully comprehending the storyline or nuances of the game, but enjoying the time spent with my dad.  He’d explain the story and gameplay to the best of his ability, and I’d eventually ask to play with him.  Shining Force II was a single-player RPG, but rather than telling me no, my dad did what I’m sure plenty of similar fathers did in those days: he pretended to plug in a second controller and handed it to me, telling me what each button did.  And then we’d play the game together.

I eventually caught on.  To their credit, my parents raised a smart son.

But those moments together with my dad created lasting memories that I carry with me to this day.

While gaming together, my dad seized the opportunity to impart life lessons upon me.  “Just so you know Danny, everything in this game is all fantasy, made up.  It’s just for fun, okay?”  “We’re the good guys Danny.  See what those guys are doing?  They’re evil.  We always want to be like the good guys.”  As I grew and matured, so did the games I played, too.  My parents were never the type to fully censor the types of games or movies my brother and me played or watched.  Obviously we weren’t allowed to see certain things – PG13 was usually the extent of what we were allowed to watch, unless a movie only had an R rating due to violence and language.  But in looking back two decades later at how my parents raised my brother and me, they made sure to explain to us the difference between real and fake, good and evil, and how we were expected to act.

I remember watching Predator and convincing my younger brother to start swearing like Arnold’s character in the movie.  That VHS was soon taken away from us and put out-of-reach after the lecture we received on not swearing.

Imagine this line said by a 4 year old

The lessons dad taught me while gaming with him are some that have stuck with me throughout my life.  Since those early days playing Shining Force with him, my gaming has spanned the gamut of genres and classifications.  Even in those early years, I watched my father play Doom, no doubt telling me how violence was not a way to solve problems, but still intrigued by everything I saw on the screen.  “Monsters aren’t real,” I’m sure he said, while blasting away a floating skull with his shotgun.  “We don’t do that kind of stuff in real life.”

We eventually moved to a different apartment, one that sat at the bottom of a hill on a dead-end street.  The only kids around of a similar age to my brother and me were the landlord’s who lived downstairs, and they were hardly home.  I remember sitting on our couch on a sweltering summer day when I was six or seven years old.  I was playing Shining Force II and drinking an iced lemonade my mom bought for me from the ice cream truck that drove by earlier.  (He drove down our street even though it was a dead end, for whatever reason.  Maybe because he knew my parents always bought my brother and me something.)  I have a very clear memory of inflicting 15 damage on an enemy, and seeing 15 health remaining on his health bar.  I must have been learning subtraction in school, because I remember being extremely proud that I realized the enemy must have had 30 health, because 15+15=30.  What did I say about my parents raising a smart kid?

Time moved on, and so did technology and the games I played.  Through a deal at work, my father managed to purchase our first computer in 1999.  I was totally enamored by the thing; I loved hearing “you’ve got mail!” every time one of us logged on.

Almost as much as I loved Counter-Strike.  Counter-Strike is probably the single biggest reason for why I have to play FPS games on a PC.  I appreciate your opinion, console gamers, but keyboard and mouse reign supreme for FPS.

It was around this time that my dad began playing the original Diablo on our Playstation.  In our house, Fridays were wine-and-cheese nights.  In an Italian household, wine is a staple, and there’s no better pairing for it than cheese.  Dad would buy a huge assortment of cheese from the market, and mom would make little platters of cheese, crackers, veggies, dip, and other picky snacks for us to eat that night.  They’d have their wine and dad would sit on the couch and play Diablo or even Final Fantasy VII until late in the night.  My brother and I would watch and cheer him on, sharing in his victories and lamenting in his defeats.

A few years later, my parents’ trust in me was apparent when they fulfilled a Christmas request by buying me Grand Theft Auto III for the PC.  I know that nowadays that seems totally insane, but when your child understands the difference between reality and fiction, there’s really nothing to be concerned about in a game with the name of a felony for a title.  And at 27 years old, I’ve yet to steal a car, murder a prostitute, or participate in a gang war.  Thanks mom and dad!

The rest, of course, is history.  I’ve been gaming non-stop since that fateful day in the early 90s, where I sat in awe next to my dad and watched him play a game which would one day be my favorite RPG.  Since then, I founded a company that covered game news and reviews and realized that my true dream is to write stories akin to those within my cherished and loved game worlds.  I’ve made dozens of friends through my gaming and have hundreds of positive, happy memories brought to me by gaming.

There’s a lot of lessons to be had when gaming with your children.  But there is none as important as the feeling of being included in my dad’s hobby.  To go out of his way to make sure I was part of the experience, even if I was doing nothing but pressing buttons on a controller that wasn’t plugged in.  In the 20+ years since, even when I was a miserable and snotty teen, my dad and me always had at least one thing in common: our love for games.  To this day, he’ll suggest games I should try or play, knowing the type I’m into and, I suspect, because he wants to watch me play them.  As he claims, “the buttons are too complicated nowadays.”

In part 2 of this post, you’ll see how I’ve managed to get my dad back into playing games again.

Read Part 2 here!

Gamers, how did you start gaming?  What was the first game you played?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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